Kafka’s Monkey Review

An old man; he’s the Charlie Chaplin sort, hobbles onto a gloomy stage – his initial appearance suggests such a character in any case.

By Manchester's Finest | 25 June 2015

Share this story

An old man; he’s the Charlie Chaplin sort, hobbles onto a gloomy stage – his initial appearance suggests such a character in any case.

The stage, lit only by a large portrait of a chimpanzee and a small light that seems to hover over the lectern, where the rickety little man takes his place to talk to (us) the academics of the institute.

We fast become audience of a presentation led by Kafka’s Red Peter who offers his transformation as a superlative blip in the space between animal and human, unfolding the story of his evolution and (we) the academics are suddenly spectators of our own disregard of freedom.

Kafka’s Monkey has been adapted from Kafka’s – ‘A Report to an Academy.’ The dialogue traces the story of a monkey who has been captured in Africa and has learnt to live as a human whilst becoming a celebrity, more specifically, a musical artiste. He speaks to the academy regarding his former life and his transition into his now confused form of man/ape.

Confined in a cage in the bowels of a ship he learns aspects of human behaviour from his sailor captors – drinking rum, spitting and finally speech. He practises these intensely as means to finding a ‘way out’, but never to regain or feel freedom again.

Entirely written in the first person, Red Peter’s speech stumbles on occasion particularly and more apparently when discussing his own brutal experience at the hand of the ‘world of men’ – revealing his battle with his now confused form.

At times the ‘ape’ escapes through a sudden stutter or slur in speech – then witness the ‘man’ as he holds an apologetic hand to his mouth as if to prevent the reversal of his newfound evolution.

Adapter Colin Teevan discusses the process of deciding who or what he was – what type of ‘monkey’ is he?

‘While in prose Kafka’s talking half-man/half-monkey exists discretely in the mind of each reader, we needed to decide who or what he was.

What does a monkey who has learnt how to behave as a human look like?’

It was Kathryn Hunter who answered this question, she moved and weaved her way through the role of Kafka’s monkey with so much ease it was as if evolution had in fact overlooked her. Her arm with a tightened fist would swing back and to, and then back and to. She advanced the space as the ape trapped in the crooked frame of an old man’s body. Animal instinct would, from time to time, insist that she hunker down to audience members to stroke, pet or shake individual hands.

‘Kathryn worked with movement expert Ilan Reichel to develop a complex language for a human to play a chimpanzee (they discovered Kathryn’s ‘inner’ monkey) who has learnt how to behave as a human.’ says Colin Teevan.

Directed by Walter Meierjohann, Kafka’s Monkey is a superb adaptation of the original piece, combined with the tremendous talent of Hunter will ensure that Red Peter’s painful tale resonates with you for days after.